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Dwight Hanawalt, longtime professor, coach and mentor at La Verne College and University of La Verne, leads alumni and friends in a round of "The Hokey-Pokey" in the Old Gym in 2007, a few weeks before its demolition.

Dwight Hanawalt, longtime professor, coach and mentor at La Verne College and University of La Verne, leads alumni and friends in a round of "The Hokey-Pokey" in the Old Gym in 2007, a few weeks before its demolition.

La Verne Legend

Dwight Hanawalt, a pillar of University of La Verne history, passes at age 92.

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  • June 18, 2012

If ever there was a name synonymous with the University of La Verne, it is Dwight Hanawalt ’41, and his passing last Thursday at the age of 92 turns the page on a long and illustrious chapter in school history.

Hanawalt, who attended La Verne College from 1937-1941 and earned a bachelor of arts degree in history, returned to the school in 1946 after serving in the Civilian Public Service and the Peace Corps during World War II.  As professor, coach, and dean of students, among other things, Hanawalt personified qualities the university was built on: toughness, caring, strength, gentleness, determination, persistence and integrity. He also possessed a great sense of humor that served him well into his twilight years.

Hanawalt, who along with Roland Ortmayer practically built the La Verne athletic program from scratch, paid tribute to Ort at a 2007 event with a self-effacing list of all the things he could do better than Ort. He could name only three such things and one of them was peeling an orange faster.

At a tribute to the Old Gym before its demolition, Hanawalt was handed a microphone and once again called out “The Hokey-Pokey”, as he’d done countless times while presiding over “Happy-Fun Games,” during low-intensity physical education classes. Hanawalt’s folk dancing and square dancing classes became legendary as a precursor to marriage among many La Verne College coeds, who were otherwise allowed limited physical contact.

Hanawalt’s booming voice could stop swaggering seniors in their tracks, if discipline was needed, but he wasn’t above draping one of his powerful arms across the shoulders of a freshman in need of encouragement. In later years, he couldn’t always remember everyone’s name, but they all got the same warm Hanawalt smile.

“Dwight was a “La Verne Person” who was willing to do whatever was necessary to provide a great experience for the students,” alumnus and longtime La Verne coach Rex Huigens ’70 said. “He and Roland Ortmayer were a “team,” and complimented each other quite well. I will always remember his laugh and the enjoyment he got out of being with students, whether they were on an athletic team, at frosh camp, or at any other student gathering.”

A formidable athlete himself as a La Verne College student, Hanawalt coached basketball, track, and football, and filled in with other sports, if needed. He was an elected member of La Verne’s first Athletic Hall of Fame class, in 1994.

“Dwight Hanawalt was a true icon and few personified the spirit of La Verne as well as he did,” said Bob Dyer ’63, alumnus and president of La Verne Athletics Associates. “His dedication to our beloved school, his genuine love of people and joy of living are what I will always remember. I will also remember his great sense of humor – often self-effacing – his ability to bring out the best in people, and his generosity.

“Those who knew him won’t forget his “happy fun games,” such as group dancing in the old gym or his leading everyone at an alumni dinner in the “hokey pokey” to end the evening!

“We will also recall his great friendship with Ort, and the impact their teaming up had on our lives! I was honored to have been a friend of Dwight, as so many of us were. Dwight truly made the world a better place!”

Hanawalt grew up in La Verne during the Great Depression. His family owned an orange grove and a pasture in the foothills nearby, farmed fruits and vegetables, and ran a commercial dairy, from which they sold and delivered milk. At age 10, Hanawalt worked as a smudger in the orchards during the winter months, tending oil-burning smudge pots that kept the evening air warm enough to protect fruit from frost damage.

Undoubtedly, it was then that he learned to hustle and the value of hard work, which he imparted to his students for more than 40 years.

“I always looked at Dwight when I wanted a model of what the perfect faculty member and coach should be,” said Steve Morgan ’68, once a student of Hanawalt,  who was inaugurated as president right about the time Hanawalt retired from teaching, in 1986. “I knew him when I was a student and later as President. I have a long history with Dwight and I always thought of him as the epitome of the values that the university stands for. From teaching to coaching to mentoring, he served as a model for thousands of University of La Verne students over the years.”

As professor of Physical Education, Hanawalt coached intercollegiate athletics, served as the dean of students and chaired the Health, Physical Education & Recreation Department. And, for more than 25 years, he was the organizer and leader of Freshman Camp, an orientation weekend held in the San Bernardino Mountains where first-year students learned La Verne history and traditions while also getting to know their new classmates.

In 1994, Dwight was inducted into the La Verne Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1978, Hanawalt was selected as Alumnus of the Year, and in 1982, he was presented with the Lee Eisan Award, named after La Verne’s coach and director of physical education in the 1930s. The latter award is given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to sports and to the community and has sustained interest in the university.

Three structures on the La Verne campus were named for the Hanawalt family – Hanawalt House, Studebaker-Hanawalt Residence Hall and Hanawalt Fitness Center.

Dwight is survived by his wife, Imogene, and their children, Don, Ruth, Mark, Kent and Jay; brothers Wayne Hanawalt and Clair Hanawalt, plus more than 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, July 21, at 10:30 a.m. at the La Verne Church of the Brethren.

Mark Vidal contributed to this report.


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